There comes a time in every teenager's life where the universe enters a state of unstable flux. The subtle shift between innocent childhood and hard-core adulthood is often imperceptible and flows like a gentile river over jagged rocks. My baptism into the world of arbitrary insanity was a lot more abrupt, although I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.
It all started the day I graduated high school, the day that will live in infamy. I wasn't particularly good or bad at scholastic pursuits but I did get into college, much to the delight of my parents and extended family. It had been decided that as soon as my state sponsored education came to an end, I would move two towns away and enroll in university to complete a degree that would support my parents into old age. It was logical, they had taken care of me and in turn I would take care of them.
Rather than subject me to the hazards of dormitory life or pay for an apartment, my mother arranged space for me at the home of her somewhat eccentric sister, Beatrice. I had only met aunt Bea on a few occasions and to my distracted child self, she seemed OK if not a bit off. I remembered her being louder than other adults and that people always seemed to be glancing at her sideways while simultaneously avoiding contact.
"Michael, my little boobala!"I knew it was her before her red bouffant came into view. She always seemed to pick me out of a crowd. I was a lonely kid in a sea of unpleasant adults, so I didn't particularly mind.
"Michael, you remember your aunt Beatrice?" My father gently pushed me in her direction. "Go give her a hug, that's a good boy."
Bea smelled like cigarettes, dollar-store perfume and some sort of alien lipstick. She planted a huge kiss on my forehead and clutched me tightly. "Hello, aunt Bea," I mumbled through her ample bosom. To my chagrin, she wasn't wearing anything under her printed silk blouse.
By the time she let me go, my parents were long gone. Most likely they had struck up a conversation wherever the hosts were serving alcohol. "Oh bubby, come 'ere and keep your poor old auntie company. You don't want to hang around those stuffed shirts," she chittered as she grabbed my hand to lead me off to who knows where. I remember her talking endlessly and my listening in silence and awe. Not so much at her stories, those were rather benign tales of debutante exploits of years past. I marveled at her ability to talk nonstop for hours at a time. Her voice was a machine, a source of white noise that was disturbing yet comforting.
I came home from the graduation ceremony to a house full of family. Hearty handshakes and slightly too hard slaps on the back went all around and after a few minutes of idle conversation, everyone left. It was an unusual affair, but I didn't think much of it. My parents were having a hushed conversation in the kitchen. That part wasn't unusual. They would mutter to themselves all the time.
"Michael," Dad called, "come here. We need to have a talk." I don't recall any pleasant discussion starting out this way.
"Yeah?" I tried not to sound nervous.
"Your mother and I have been talking. Aunt Beatrice says the room you'll be staying in is ready now. We think that you should stay the summer there and get a feel for the town before you start school." Logical, but I sensed an ulterior motive.
"What's the real reason?" I glared at dad suspiciously.
"Oh honey you're borrowing trouble," mom was less than reassuring.
"Well, son," dad sighed heavily, "Your uncle Steve has been ill." Steve. That was a train wreck that had it's own story.
"You're kicking me out for Steve," I blurted, "Why can't Steve just move in with Bea?"
"Oh those two would kill each other before Steve had half his junk moved in." Mom squeezed my shoulder gently, "This is best for the family bubbykins." Pack your bags, we're off on a guilt trip.
I slumped my shoulders, resigning myself to the fact that there would be no argument or changing of minds. "I suppose I should pack."
"That's my boy." Dad stood up and shook my hand. "You do us proud, son." I smiled, repressing my rising irritation.
The next day, we were off in dad's old station wagon. The three hour ride was silent except for the occasional flip of a page and the droning monotony of road noise. I didn't know why mom insisted on coming. She disliked talking to Bea on the phone much less in person. I guess she felt some sort of obligatory guilt.
We rattled up the hill to Bea's house and parked unceremoniously on the curb. Before I could untangle myself from the seat belt and get out of the car, my three bags were out of the car perched neatly on Bea's lawn. "There ya go, son" dad said as he got back into the driver's seat. Mom didn't even look up from her book. "Call us when you get settled in!"
The car sputtered to life and they were gone. "Oh my goodness gracious how rude!" Bea bounded off the front porch. "I can't believe that horrible sister of mine, dropping her own child off like a piece of trash! Why I tell you she's garbage!"
I hastily tried to gather my bags as Bea kept talking. Her chatter seemed a lot more aggravating than I remembered.